Delaware Blue Coats drop regular-season finale to Oklahoma City Blue

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Aminu Mohammed gets ready to secure a rebound. The Blue Coats were out-rebounded 59-32 in the loss to the Blue. - Saturday, March 30, 2024. - Photo via Payton Tuorto

On a night when the Delaware Blue Coats (19-15) donned red jerseys in honor of first responders and fought for a home playoff game in the regular season finale, they fell short on their home court against the Oklahoma City Blue (21-13), losing 121-95.

Oklahoma City has surged lately, winning nine of their last ten games, while Delaware has trended in the opposite direction. The significant difference in this game was three-point shooting.

“I think the talent we are playing against is really good,” head coach Mike Longabardi said. “That team we just played is probably the best in the league based on the film I have seen. Tonight we did not beat ourselves. We had 95 shots to their 93; their defense had something to do with it, but the ball just was not going in tonight.”

The Blue Coats shot just 3-35 from behind the arc compared to 11-34 for the Blue, a 24-point swing in the Blue’s direction. When the best three-point shooter Terquavion Smith does not have it going from three-point range, with a 0-7 performance, it showed the type of night it was going to be for Delaware.

The two-way players for the Blue Coats, including Smith, Ricky Council IV, and Jeff Dowtin, struggled from the field. They shot just 16-45 for 43 points, at 33.5%, compared to the two-way players for the Blue, who shot 19-34 for 44 points, combining for 55.5% from the field. Although they scored a similar amount of points, the Blue did it more efficiently, allowing players like Ousmane Dieng, who was on assignment, to contribute 19 points.

The Blue Coats, who were once the number-one team in the Eastern Conference for much of the second half of the season, have fallen to the sixth and final spot. They have lost nine of their last 12 games.

The main reason for this drop-off has been the loss of starting center Darius Bazley. Bazley was signed to the Utah Jazz on a non-guaranteed contract in early March. The Blue Coats miss Bazley as a rebounder and defensive player.

“Honestly, in general, we just have to be better,” Aminu Mohammed said. “We just gave up too many points defensively on the fast break. We gotta be a more physical team out there. We are undersized so we have to try that much harder for rebounds.”

Since Bazley’s final game for Delaware on March 5, the Blue Coats have been out-rebounded in all but one game, giving up 447 rebounds while only securing 323 of their own. They have only managed to get more than 40 rebounds twice.

Ever since losing the 6-9 Bazley, the Blue Coats have been relying on the 6-5 Council IV at the center position. While Council IV is one of the best players on the Blue Coats roster, it’s asking a lot of him to be the rebounder that Bazley was. Oklahoma City was able to out-rebound Delaware 59-32.

On March 22, the Blue Coats signed Mike Watkins, who is the same height as Bazley at 6-9. He recently played in his first two games for Delaware, scoring his first points in this game. He is averaging only 5.4 minutes in these games.

“Part of it right now is Big Mike [Watkins] we just signed him,” Longabardi said. “He is still getting up to speed, so I am not comfortable throwing him out there yet.”

As the defending champion Blue Coats head to Indiana to take on the Mad Ants in the first round, they will aim to repeat as champions. If they were to repeat, it would be the first time since the Asheville Altitude, which did so in 2004 and 2005. With Mohammed, Jared Brownridge, and Patrick McCaw being the only returning members of the championship squad, Delaware will need some of their younger players to step up.

“They gotta be ready,” Mohammed said. “Anything can happen. Gotta be ready when your number is called. Gotta watch the game and see how you can help the team.”

With the team being the defending champions and each round being single-elimination until the championship, Longabardi knows his team still has a chance at winning the whole thing.

“We can beat anybody,” Longabardi said. “Most of these games have been close together. So I think the playoffs will play to our benefit.”

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